Amos Harel
December 21, 2008 - 1:00am

The Israeli media has been awash in recent weeks with statements that the country is not being run, but is basically running itself. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's resignation (which does not actually involve leaving the Prime Minister's Office), the elections and the bottomless pit of hatred between him, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak have all but paralyzed the political-security system.

Israel's slide into the end of the Gaza cease-fire is often touted as proof of this reality, supposedly proving that Hamas, more than Israel, calls the shots in the region.

But this characterization is seriously flawed for the simple reason that there is a leader in charge of Israel's current security and foreign policy. He is a senior official, albeit unelected, by the name of Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad. Today, Gilad enjoys more influence over government policy than many of those who outrank him in the government hierarchy.

Senior officials in the Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry and Israel Defense Forces have recently been heard grumbling that "Amos Gilad is currently running the country." And with good reason. It was Gilad who drafted the cease-fire agreement with Hamas last June, through Egyptian mediation, and who pushed last week for its extension, which Hamas rejected.

He is also intimately involved in talks over the fate of captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, with security coordination with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, with policy over the blockade of the Gaza Strip and with other key issues such as contacts with Russia.

Gilad is not only the head of the Defense Ministry's political-security branch, but also the government's caretaker coordinator in the West Bank.

The vacuum in the government is not only political - the National Security Council is weaker than ever, and the IDF Planning Directorate, like army Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi himself, rarely forays into political issues.

Last month Ashkenazi again pushed for the appointment of Brig. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun as deputy director of the Civil Administration in the territories.

The idea met strong opposition from the office of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, including his military secretary Eitan Dangot and chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog.

Both have sought the coordinator position for themselves, but Barak has been unable to choose between them. Both also want to become major generals, a promotion Ashkenazi has opposed.

Abu Rukun's appointment as deputy coordinator has been rejected for now, on Barak's orders. Gilad will continue working two jobs, a fact that hardly gladdens either Dangot or Herzog but at least leaves someone experienced in the coordinator position during a very sensitive period.

The appointment issue links indirectly to another - the promotion to major general Ashkenazi seeks for Military Advocate General Avihai Mandelblit, who is a brigadier general. The chief of staff needs Barak's authorization, and sources close to Ashkenazi say Mandelblit's promotion would solve the problem of filling the Civil Administration slot.

Still, the idea of promoting Mandelblit has raised hackles from a number of officials, some due to their own personal interest and some for more substantive reasons.

Mandelblit has appeared in the headlines frequently of late, as the High Court deliberates over appeals from human rights organizations against its decision to try on relatively lenient charges Lt. Col. Omri Burberg, the battalion commander under whom soldiers are being tried for shooting a Palestinian with a rubber bullet in the West Bank village of Na'alin.

The appellants leveled harsh criticism on Mandelblit's judgment regarding the relatively light treatment, but the advocate general remained firm. A High Court decision on the matter is expected soon.


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